What is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

My journey

I was diagnosed with PTSD recently and I such a strong desire to be the person I used to be before the PTSD causing events. (there were in total 3 events in a short space of time). Going through it, I had no idea what it was and how to cope. The nightmares and lack of sleep made me feel like a zombie. However, now I am more aware of what PTSD is and my self-awareness has strengthened.  Despite this, I know my journey is nowhere near complete but so grateful my knowledge surrounding it has changed. So let’s explore this together….

What is PTSD

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.
APA 2020

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been around for thousands of years, but rather confusingly under many different names.

It’s worth highlighting that the majority of people exposed to traumatic events experience some short-term distress which resolves without the need for professional intervention. Although unfortunately the small proportion who do develop the disorder are unlikely to seek help. Instead most battle on despite their symptoms and their quality of life is likely to be substantially reduced; evidence suggests that around 70% of people who suffer with PTSD in the UK do not receive any professional help at all. The disorder also impacts upon loved ones, work colleagues and more widely too. So, let’s explore signs and symptoms we can look out for in ourselves and our loved ones.

Re-experiencing

Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. This is when a person involuntarily and vividly relives the traumatic event in the form of:

  • flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • repetitive and distressing images or sensations
  • physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling
    NHS 2018

other symptoms include

  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered. (ADAA, 2010-2020)
  • panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • being easily upset or angry
  • extreme alertness, also sometimes called ‘hypervigilance’
  • disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
  • irritability or aggressive behaviour
  • finding it hard to concentrate – including on simple or everyday tasks
  • being jumpy or easily startled
  • self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
  • other symptoms of anxiety (Mind 2017)

PTSD and chronic pain

The two sitting together is a challenging combination. Research found that those experiencing chronic pain and comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were reporting more severe pain and a poorer quality of life that those who only experienced chronic pain. They were also showing more symptoms of depression and were more likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.

Treating PTSD and chronic pain

For those suffering from PTSD and chronic pain, seeking out treatment for both issues can make a big difference to the way that you feel. Looking to treat one but not the other can be counterproductive, and therefore it’s best to see the two as a mutually-related problem.

NICE guidance from 2005 and 2011 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.

Self-care suggestions for PTSD

I know it’s hard and seems impossible to overcome but you got this!! You may not be ready for some steps so think about ways in which you can cope better. The grounding method has been proven to support coping and support us to overcome symptoms so give it a go…

You can download our free Grounding Method info sheet here >>

Grounding Method

Use 5,4,3,2,1:  Think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell or like the smell of, and 1 slow, deep breath.

You got this!

Familiarise yourself with the here and now

Look around the room, notice the colours, the people, the shapes of things. Make it more real.

Listen to and really notice the sounds around you: the traffic, voices, washing machine, music etc.

Notice your body, the boundary of your skin, how your clothes feel on your skin, movement in your hair as you move your head, really feel the chair or floor supporting you – how that feels in your feet, your legs, your body.

Move about: stretch, stamp your feet, jump up and down, dance, run on the spot, rub your arms and legs, clap your hands, walk, remind yourself where you are right now.

Get support

I know it’s hard, really, I do; but what’s harder is struggling through day to day and thinking one day it will miraculously change. You owe it to yourself to make a difference – regain control. Before the even, who did you ring when you felt like shit and needed support? Chances are they are the best support network under the circumstances. Nevertheless, they may not be; a friend of mine exacerbated my symptoms by messaging my friend to see if I was mentally unwell… I was proud of myself for trusting him in the circumstances because trusting anyone was HARD… but he showed himself not to be the right person to help me through this journey; so, don’t worry if people don’t get it.

 Also don’t knock medical help (again I know this is hard) … this could be counselling, or CBT however refer to you GP to explore medical options.

Time

Lastly, give yourself time. You are human and while I appreciate how frustrating it is for you and your loved ones, take your time in relearning about yourself. This is a stronger version of you and you’ve got this!!

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